The Green Games: the 2014 World Cup and the Environment

By Anna Alvarado | SQ Staff Writer | SQ Online (2014-15)


Football–more commonly known in the United States as soccer–is a worldwide phenomenon, with millions of fans all across the globe. This past summer, these fans gathered in Brazil for the FIFA World Cup, an event surrounded by both athletic drama and sociopolitical controversies. One of these issues is the World Cup’s impact on the nearby Amazon rainforest, one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. In an effort to promote the sustainability of the 2014 World Cup games, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the main governing body of the event, even named it “La Copa Verde” (Spanish for “the Green Games”). With the World Cup over and dust from the games settling, many are wondering about the true environmental costs of the World Cup and its impact on the irreplaceable biodiversity of the Amazon region.

FIFA’s Environmental Efforts

FIFA established several green initiatives this year in an attempt to make the 2014 World Cup one of the most environmentally friendly sporting events yet. Programs like FIFA’s “Football for the Planet” organized green goals such as the installation of solar panels in all stadiums and strategies to partially offset the carbon footprint of the games. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), carbon offsetting strategies of the World Cup games saved 545,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2eq) from being expelled from the environment, offsetting the 59,200 tCO2eq FIFA predicted to be emitted from the games. This amount saved is equivalent to the annual emission of about 90,000 cars.

FIFA’s measures also included acquiring a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for each of their stadiums, ensuring that the infrastructure design was environmentally sustainable and that waste management strategies were incorporated. FIFA’s promotion of sustainable agriculture and proper food consumption was incorporated into UNEP’s Green Passport campaign, urging fans to reduce, reuse and recycle with the help of a social media application. With all of these efforts, the 2014 World Cup was recognized as the “greenest World Cup ever”. However, despite these accomplishments, many still hold reservations about the true sustainability of the games beyond the duration of the tournaments.

Beyond the Games

FIFA’s claims about its environmental efforts were met with scrutiny and criticism by both scientists and media sources. Hosting such a major event so close to the Amazon rainforest will inevitably have profound consequences on the nearby ecosystem. Large stadiums such as the Arena Amazonia in Manaus required large fuel expenditures that endangered the unique rainforest ecology. One particularly alarming example is the endangerment of the three-banded armadillo. According to a journal article in Biotropica, the armadillo is incredibly susceptible to extinction due to habitat loss and the constant threat of urbanization and development. In the article, author Felipe P. Melo and his team of scientists criticized FIFA’s lack of effort in ensuring the ecological safety of this species or the conservation of their habitat despite having the armadillo as the official mascot of the games. Fuleco the armadillo’s broad popularity became a source of social media celebrity, rather than a voice of ecological conservation. FIFA was able to commercialize the armadillo but was unable to fully address the conservation or protection of these species.

Furthermore, many of the environmental goals that FIFA sought to achieve failed to materialize. Only six of the 12 football stadiums received LEED certification, with some stadiums lacking the solar panels that were promised. The construction of some transportation infrastructure was delayed indefinitely and failed to be completed in time for the games. The addition of these public transportation systems would have helped to reduce carbon emissions associated with the games. In addition to the incomplete public transportation, the total estimated carbon emission from the games is calculated to be over 2.7 million tCO2eq when taking into account overall team and tourist travel, waste and venue construction and upkeep. This is far more than what FIFA claimed to expect and therefore requires increased effort from FIFA to offset their carbon impact. FIFA’s commitment to a zero-emission event has a long way to go, and only time will tell if the organization’s efforts will truly eliminate the World Cup’s carbon footprint.

From the Pitch to the Future

Was the 2014 World Cup the greenest World Cup ever? Environmental efforts in La Copa Verde were commendable, but it is still too early to say whether FIFA has done enough to compensate for the games’ environmental impact. FIFA and the Brazilian government’s response towards this issue will set a precedent for future mega-events throughout the world. The world has yet to see if this global spectacle is truly worth the potential harm it does to the environment.

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